WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - It's practically real estate lore, a time when housing contracts slid through the approval process like residents into a new gated community and real estate agents had little more to do than pick up the phone to settle a deal.
Today's agents are working harder than ever to secure their clients' loans from bashful banks and seal short-sale contracts that can take months to finalize.
Giving up a smidge of commission is only the beginning.
When an appraisal is at stake, agent-fronted fixes to roofs, electrical systems and air conditioners are no longer taboo.
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In this recovering market, agents have purchased and installed stoves - a required appliance for a Federal Housing Administration loan - paid for new carpet, cleaned up rat feces and helped landscape properties when a deal was on the fence.
If the sale ultimately falls through, the agent is out the elbow grease and cash.
"We used to have a market where people were just writing offers and buying homes, and you didn't have to do anything because it all just happened," said Brian Paul, CEO of the Realtors Association of Palm Beach County. "Now, in this market, people are having to really work."
Palm Beach Gardens agent Craig Fialkowski knows all about that. He personally ripped out and repaired a moldy wall in a kitchen in October before it was appraised.
"I told the buyer, 'Just get some drywall and a Sheetrock knife,' and he said, 'What's a sheetrock knife?' I knew I had to help," Fialkowski said.
He also recently paid $350 to have an air conditioner serviced in a home where the sale eventually fell apart.
"Lately it seems like everyone is going out of their way to get transactions done," said Fialkowski, who works with Herman Group Real Estate.
The extra effort coupled with the recent rebound in the market appears to be paying off, according to a September sales report from the Florida Realtors.
Palm Beach County single-family home sales were up 43 percent in September compared with the same period in 2008. Condo sales were up 30 percent.
At the same time, median single-family home prices in Palm Beach County were down 17 percent to $242,900. Condos dropped 24 percent to $106,700.
"People who otherwise couldn't afford a home can now afford one," Paul said.
But sometimes, just barely.
That's when a real estate agent has to judge risk vs. reward when it comes to putting money up to make a sale, and whether it's really the best thing for the borrower.
"If they can't buy a home for lack of a stove, can they really afford a mortgage?" asked Curtis Lowe, president of the Realtors Association of St. Lucie County. "I tend to try and help with the bottom line, but have I bought a stove? Sure, that's a good return on my investment."
Jennifer Hernann, of Exit Realty Neighbors in West Palm Beach, had clients who found a "cute little starter house" and qualified for an FHA loan.
One of the home's bedrooms, however, needed carpeting - an FHA requirement.
So Hernann bought a carpet remnant for $120 and, although it wasn't perfect, installed it herself.
"Some things are just worth doing and getting done with so you can get the deal closed," she said.
Fialkowski has trimmed trees and laid mulch to make a successful sale when a homeowners association refused to release a house for sale without yard maintenance. Fialkowski's clients had 24 hours to do the work.
"We went over to do it, and Craig was already there sweating away," said client Mary Carter, who bought the home with her husband, Keith. "We're in new times, and I guess you have to be prepared for a new set of rules if you're a Realtor."